Ten years after the invasion of Afghanistan, the Stop The War Coalition, CND and MAB held a lengthy mass rally in Trafalgar Square before marching to Downing Street to demand an end to the war. London, United Kingdom. 8th October, 2011
Ten years after the invasion of Afghanistan, the Stop The War Coalition, CND and MAB held a lengthy mass rally in Trafalgar Square before marching to Downing Street to demand an end to the war. London, UK. 08/10/2011
Several thousand people came to Trafalgar Square at noon to show their support for the campaign to end the war in Afghanistan and other imperialist adventures by our government. Since the war started 10 years ago, more than 550 British soldiers have been killed (382 in Afghanistan), and many maimed there in Iraq, where more than a million civilians have been killed. The NATO attacks on Libya, still continuing, are the third western war on a Muslim country.
It was a varied gathering of 'Armed forces veterans, school students, musicians, trade unionists, writers, artists, academics, politicians, campaigners, and military families' that occupied Trafalgar Square, and through the afternoon representatives of all these spoke, though I missed half of the proceedings covering events elsewhere.
As well as speeches there were films shown on the giant screen, performance events, art installations, and debates and stalls by campaigning groups around the square, in particular calling for the release of Shaker Aamer, a London resident whose wife and family live in Battersea, who is still held prisoner in Guantanamo Bay, and for the release of Babar Ahmad, a 37 year old British Muslim who has been detained without charge in this country since August 2004. The US wants to extradite him over allegations that he was involved in running websites supporting Afghan and Chechen insurgents. In 2009 he was awarded £60,000 compensation at the High Court after UK anti-terrorist police admitted subjecting him to 'grave abuse, tantamount to torture' during his first arrest in December 2003.
Among the speakers I did hear were Billy Hayes, rapper Lowkey, Lindsey German, Bruce Kent, John Pilger, Jemima Khan, Tony Benn, George Galloway and Julian Assange, who was at the centre of a huge media scrum both before and after his address. Joan Humphries whose grandson Kevin Elliot was killed in Afghanistan spoke for herself and other families of soldiers who have died there. We heard from David Gentleman who designed the many fine Stop the War posters, Elvis McGonagall performed one of his poems and the newly elected National Chair of Stop the War Coalition, Jeremy Corbyn MP gave the final speech.
By this time quite a few of the estimated 5000 people had left and gone home, and there were perhaps 1500 who then marched down Whitehall, led by veteran peace protester Hetty Bower. There a delegation was to deliver a letter from military families calling on the prime minister to bring the troops home. The marchers refused to go into the pens on the far side of the road and crowded across Whitehall, closing the road to traffic. They massed in front of the gates to Downing Street, but after around ten minutes were pushed back by police towards the centre of the road. There were a few minor scuffles as police, sometimes perhaps with a little unnecessary excessive force which angered the protesters cleared some areas.
Police seemed to be stopping some of the protesters from leaving, particularly towards Parliament Square, and I think their presence probably prolonged the protest, but soon people were slipping away, and I joined the stream and left.